Arch Madness got underway Thursday afternoon. And no, that’s not a misprint. It’s the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, and it is called Arch Madness because it is played under the arch in St. Louis and the MVC is incredibly clever like that. The conference matters because it gets all sorts of buzz, and because teams from the conference have had a habit recently of making a lot of noise in March. Since that’s the case, it is obviously worthwhile spending a few minutes getting to know the conference heading into their tournament.
The tournament started Thursday with the bottom four seeds, but the real action begins Friday. It is particularly important for at least three teams. Drake (25-4) won the regular season, and is all but a lock to make the tournament. Illinois State (22-8) is also in very good shape to go dancing. Southern Illinois doesn’t have quite the record of those two teams (17-13), but they have wins over St. Mary’s and Mississippi State and a solid conference season, so they are in play as well. At this point they would be in my bracket. The thing that could mess the whole thing up, though, is that this is a wildly unpredictable tournament. The top-seeded team hasn’t won it in ten years. The winner gets an automatic bid, and any of those three teams along with Creighton, Northern Iowa, Bradley and Missouri State all have legitimate shots at pulling it off. If one of those bottom four do win it then it could make a real mess of the bracket.
The semi-finals and finals are almost guaranteed to be interesting, and there is one quarterfinal game that I am particularly looking forward to. At 2:35 local time on Friday the #4 seed, Creighton (20-9), plays the #5 seed, Bradley (17-14). Both these teams were very promising earlier in the season, but they couldn’t escape their flaws, and they will likely need to win this tournament to make the big field. Either team has the potential to do that, so it will be very interesting to watch this game to see if either of them looks like they are ready to cause some havoc. To add to the intrigue, the spread for the game is at even at most books, so I’m obviously not the only one who thinks that this one to watch. The winner of the game will likely play Drake in the semis, and that one could be another gem.